This time of year, many northeast Ohioans are in a similar situation. As hunters exchange their camos for waders, they leave their families with freezers full of deer meat, the prize of many hours sitting in a cold tree stand.
My dad and uncle are two of these people, and our family is a typical hunting family. There is the main refrigerator, and then there's the "other" freezer full of the fruits of their labor (that is, if using motion sensor cameras tied to trees counts as labor).
I'm sure many wishing to reclaim their freezer space are wondering what to do with all the meat. Some are skittish about cooking venison, with its reputation as being "gamey." However, a good recipe and flavorful marinades can make venison as tender and tasty as beef or pork.
Photos special to the Tribune Chronicle by Leonard Glenn Crist
A delicious, affordable meal that looks good on a plate.
In the Taste of Home cookbook, I found a recipe that seemed like it could both clear out my mom's freezer and clear venison's good name for those brave enough to try it.
The sole venison recipe in the Taste of Home cookbook was for Sweet Pepper Venison Stir Fry, which looked colorful and delicious, at least from the photo. It seemed pretty easy and inexpensive, and within my meager kitchen skill level. After convincing my dad to give up some tender deer steaks, which he and my uncle usually make into jerky, I tried to find an Asian-inspired side to go with it. I picked a Sesame Almond Romaine Salad with a homemade vinaigrette. It called for ramen noodles, which I, like any student, had in abundance.
The venison was to be marinated for a few hours in the refrigerator in half of the homemade marinade made of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and corn starch. Kudos to my dad for pre-cutting the steaks into thin slices before vacuum-sealing them.
Sesame-Almond Romaine Salad
TIME: Prep/Total Time: 25 min.
1/2 cup butter, cubed
1 tablespoon sugar
2 packages (3 ounces each) ramen noodles, crushed
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 bunches romaine, torn
4 green onions, thinly sliced
3/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
In a large skillet, melt butter and sugar over medium heat. Add the noodles, sesame seeds and almonds. (Discard seasoning packets from noodles or save for another use.) Cook and stir for 6-8 minutes or until browned; set aside. In a large salad bowl, toss the romaine and onions.
In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the dressing ingredients; shake well. Just before serving, drizzle over romaine mixture; top with noodle mixture. Toss to coat.
Sweet Pepper Venison Stir-Fry
TIME: Prep: 15 min. + marinating Cook: 10 min.
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons sugar
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 venison tenderloin (about 1 pound), cut into 2-inch strips
1 medium green pepper, julienned
1 medium sweet red pepper, julienned
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Hot cooked rice
In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and pepper; stir until smooth. Pour half into a large resealable plastic bag; add venison. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Cover and refrigerate remaining marinade.
Drain and discard marinade. In a large skillet or wok, stir-fry venison and peppers in oil for 4-6 minutes or until meat is no longer pink and peppers are crisp-tender. Stir reserved marinade; add to the pan. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Serve with rice.
Since the salad recipe called for red wine vinegar, and I don't have much need for vinegar in my life, I killed two birds with one stone and used the red wine vinegar for both. If there were any repercussions, I didn't notice.
While the steaks marinated, I prepared the vinaigrette by mixing the vinegar, olive oil and more sugar and soy sauce in a bowl. The salad called for a crunchy topping of crushed ramen noodles and slivered almonds sauteed in butter and sugar, which I prepared in advance without any fires. It did make the kitchen smell pretty good. Though the recipe called for two packs of noodles, I found just one was more than enough.
Two hours and a newly swept living room floor later, the venison came out of the fridge and into a hot pan (I have no wok but have a wok lid for some reason) with heated oil and julienned sweet red peppers. I assumed "julienned" meant "cut up long-wise" and cut them like in the picture. They cooked for about 7 minutes, and then the other half of the marinade was added.
Because I'm not the biggest pepper person, I also added a bag of unfrozen stir-fry veggies to the skillet and cooked another 2 minutes. The colors looked wonderful, especially against the contrast of the white rice I hastily made and dumped on my nice platter from Ikea. The salad went into a bowl that in no way matched the platter, drizzled with the homemade dressing and topped with the crunchy topping.
The verdict: The salad dressing was delicious, and the sweetness against the salty noodles and almonds was pretty tasty. Too late I thought of other stuff I could have thrown in there, maybe some dried cranberries or feta cheese.
Before I could finish the salad, my photographer had already finished his and was starting on the stir fry, which was gone before I could even start mine. The marinade really soaked into the venison, and you could not tell the difference between the venison steaks and beef at all. However, the meat did come out a little overdone for my taste. Maybe my dad shot a particularly tough deer. For medium-rare and medium lovers, I'd take the cooking time (before adding marinade) down to maybe 5 minutes, as long as the meat is cooked through. The vegetables were done perfectly, though, and all plates were left clean, because hungry journalists always appreciate free meals.
Give this recipe a try, and turn a crowded freezer into a meal any hunter can be proud of.